So, Neymar is out of the World Cup. It has been reported that he has fractured his vertebrae in his lower spine after being kneed in the back by Juan Zuniga in a challenge that went unpunished. I have had an opportunity to review that challenge many times and at many different angles and I all I can say is: What was Zuniga doing? It is an incredibly poor, nasty challenge that should have been severly punished. There needs to be more vigilance to protect players with ability like Neymar. He is a valuable asset and it shouldn’t be down to foolish incidents like this to take him out of the game. Football is a physical sport and I believe it should remain so, but there is no room in the game for such a challenge.
But now this presents an even bigger problem for Zuniga; hours after the incident there were a series of unacceptable racist death threats sent to him. I feel no need to repeat some of these vile slurs, but I assure you that some of the messages that have been posted are utterly horrendous. It is at times like this where football can bring out the worst in people. Just as there is no room in the game for sloppy, dangerous challenges – there needs to be equally zero tolerance of small-minded, discriminatory statements.
Although Neymar has been ruled out of the World Cup after fracturing his vertebrae, the examination has shown that he does not require surgery. The Team Doctor, Rodrigo Lasmar, has stated that he would only need immobilisation to recover. This is a blessing. This ugly incident can hopefully be forgotten without any lasting impact on Brazil’s star player.
The question we need to ask ourselves is what will Brazil do now? How will they respond to losing their key striker? Tragedy often spawns victory, and this could in fact spur them on to win the World Cup – the players now have the chance to come together and fight back in unity. But they will be shaken. Their poster-boy is down and out; their foundation is unstable. But all this uncertainty just breeds more excitement. There is no doubt in my mind that there will more twists and turns and exciting moments in the next week with the World Cup.